Parents, students state preferences for choice options in survey

Published Nov. 18, 2015

If superintendent Kurt Browning wanted clear direction for the Pasco County School District's next round of choice options, he got it from parents and students responding to a recent survey.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and performing arts themes emerged as top areas of interest for elementary, middle and high schools.

According to the district's survey results, 22.4 percent of elementary parents and students supported added STEM magnets in the coming years, more than any other subject. The district recently opened a STEAM magnet (that's STEM plus arts) with a lengthy waiting list.

STEM also was the top choice for middle schools and was a close second among high school parents, who ranked performing arts No. 1.

Notably, elementary students placed foreign language instruction as their second choice, just ahead of the arts, while their parents were much less inclined — 17.7 percent to 5.6 percent.

On the other end of the spectrum, single-gender classrooms garnered almost no support, alongside K-8 schooling (which appeared popular in its trial run at Crews Lake Middle) and classical education (for which Pasco has a popular charter school).

Why does all this matter? Because Browning has committed to offering more education options, and the survey showed that three-fourths of the nearly 4,000 respondents were likely or to attend a specialty program.

LAWSUIT FILED: A former Pasco County schools assistant principal is claiming the district discriminated against her because she was pregnant.

Buffey Simon, who filed a similar federal complaint three years ago, sued the district late last month, reasserting her accusation. In her filing, lawyers alleged that Hudson Middle School then-principal Terry Holback began treating Simon differently after learning she was interested in having a second child.

Simon received disciplinary write-ups after inquiring about matching her work schedule with her child's day care, the complaint states. Simon informed her supervisors she was pregnant in March 2012, and learned she would not be renewed two months later, it states.

Simon filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in May and a retaliation charge in July, after she was involuntarily demoted. During the 2012 superintendent election season, Simon also alleged she was pressured to back then-incumbent Heather Fiorentino.

Since then, she has not been able to re-enter the district administrative pool, the document alleges, and has been passed over for lateral transfers from her district-level job.

She is seeking lost back pay and benefits, as well as damages.

In the past, district officials have said Simon's performance was lacking, leading to her demotion. They would not comment on pending litigation.

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TESTING: Pasco County School Board chairman Steve Luikart is not too impressed with Florida's testing system.

"Trying to force the education profession into a scientific equation may seem like a good idea to some," Luikart wrote in a six-page position paper. "The results of that attempt, however, will not be in the best interest of students. The only ones who will gain are those with financial and political interests.

"The current process for evaluating students, teachers, schools and districts in the state of Florida is severely flawed at best," he added. "It lacks credibility and has very little, if any, validity."

Luikart suggested a different approach, centered on giving classroom teachers more flexibility to meet their students' needs.

Among the highlights, Luikart proposed that teachers receive a computer tablet in which they track each student's progress toward academic standards. Their daily movement would be measured through discussion, short assignments and projects, with "short, precise" homework to further inform the overview. More in-depth work could be included.

"This allows a trained professional to evaluate the student and take into consideration the student's needs, home life and the vast amount of variables each student brings to the classroom every day," he wrote, calling it a "much more accurate, precise, reliable and current form of data."

Florida Statutes would require a rewrite, he acknowledged. But it's time to improve over what Florida has, he stated.

"In my 37 years in the education profession, I have never seen a college application (public or private) that asked for a state test score, from any state," Luikart wrote. "That should tell our state 'experts' something even they can understand."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.